Thursday, September 6, 2007

question . . . . . . on critical realism

What model or template could be used to make 'critical realist' decisions? This is an interesting question, and one that I am not exactly sure how to answer. I think I understand the question, namely, if we are going to operate with a critical realist epistemology, how does this affect how we go about making decisions; perhaps, what are the steps we take as we seek to make a decision? Well, I have a few initial responses.

The first response that comes to mind is to say that what I here Wright saying is that people on the whole naturally operate with a critical realist epistemology. That is, Wright is saying that what he describes as critical realism is the normal process of interacting with the world and arriving at conclusions. Note, for instance, Wright's illustration of driving down the road when suddenly the car begins to shudder (p. 43), and how one in this situation begins to come up with various hypotheses about what is going on, hypotheses that derive from the stories we tell ourselves about how cars and roads work. In other words, part of Wright's argument for a critical realist epistemology is the claim that this is what human beings do naturally, even if they have not sat down and analyzed it as he has. Thus, I might suggest that you yourself might already make decisions in this manner. Now, as I say that, I recognize that what you mean by "decisions" is slightly different than what Wright is talking about in coming up with an "explanatory story" to explain the shuddering of his care (has the council been digging up the road, has a tyre gone flat). Nevertheless, I imagine that both would be approached essentially the same way.

This leads to my second response, which gets closer to answering your question. According to Wright, critical realism involves a "spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known" (p. 35), this is what makes the process critical. He then goes on to suggest that this dialogue is one in which we make observations, we then offer hypotheses about our observations, and then those hypotheses are tested, that is, we go about verifying or falsifying the hypothesis through experimentation (recognizing here that the process of verification/falsification will differ based upon the nature of the object, question, or field being investigated). In short then, Wright argues for a process of hypothesis and verification, which is a spirally process because often our initial hypothesis has to be modified as we continue to make observations and submit those to critical reflection and testing. Wright then offers a definition of what counts for verification (42.2 = page 42; paragraph 42). Of course, in all of this we must be aware of the worldview stories within which we make our observations and test our hypotheses, since each of these are affected by the stories with which we operate. Sometimes, the modification of our hypothesis involves a modification of the larger story within which the hypothesis was made.

Somewhere Wright has a nice paragraph that essentially explains this process. I will look for it and update this post when I can find it.

So what would some of the others in the class wish to contribute? Do you have something to add? Have I read Wright right?

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